China rejects key Western calls for human-rights reforms at U.N. meeting

FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong protesters face off against riot police at a rally in support of the human rights of Xinjiang Uighurs in Hong Kong

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) - China on Thursday rejected Western-led recommendations for human-rights reforms including calls for greater freedoms in Hong Kong and for Uyghurs in Xinjiang, but accepted others from allies, as it sought to defend its record at a U.N. meeting.

The U.N. Human Rights Council session in Geneva caps off a review process in which Beijing has strived to fend off criticism following a 2022 U.N. report which said the detention of Uyghurs and other Muslims in China's Xinjiang region may constitute crimes against humanity. China denies any abuses.

The council's president, Omar Zniber, said China had accepted nearly 70% of the more than 400 reform recommendations it received as part of the U.N. review.

"Progress and development on human rights is achieved in China with each passing day," China's ambassador, Chen Xu, told the meeting, alongside a large delegation of Chinese diplomats and officials. He said it rejected recommendations that were "politically motivated based on disinformation, ideologically biased or interfering in China's traditional sovereignty" and condemned what he called an attempt to "smear and attack" it.

Yet China's critics say its high acceptance rate is misleading, with one Western diplomat alleging the country had "stacked the deck" by investing political capital in quelling criticism.

Reuters previously reported that China had lobbied non-Western countries to praise its record by asking them to make "constructive recommendations."

British ambassador Simon Manley complained to the council that China had rejected each and every one of its recommendations, including a call for an end to persecutions of Uyghurs and for the Hong Kong security law to be repealed.

U.S. Human Rights Ambassador Michèle Taylor also voiced disappointment at what she called China's refusal to take action.

"China's abuses constitute a rejection of U.N. assessments and recommendations and violate or undermine international commitments," she said. Other countries were more upbeat, including Russia's envoy who praised China's "constructive approach" and Gambia's envoy who lauded the country's progress.

The U.N. review of China is not unique and all countries undergo the process every few years at the council - the only intergovernmental body designed to protect human rights worldwide.

An attempt to hold a debate about the U.N. High Commissioner's China report was voted down by mostly non-Western members later in 2022 - a result seen as a diplomatic victory for Beijing.

(Reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva; Editing by Matthew Lewis)